Assembly concern at proposed changes to Irish language funding

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MID-ULSTER MLA Patsy McGlone has welcomed the Assembly’s support for a motion expressing concern at proposed changes to Irish language funding.

The SDLP motion was agreed following an Assembly debate on the effects that a new funding model proposed by Foras na Gaeilge will have will have on Irish language organisations.

Mr McGlone proposed the motion along with party colleagues Dominic Bradley and Karen McKevitt.

Speaking afterwards, Mr McGlone, who is a fluent Irish speaker, said the changes would; “stifle innovation, undermine voluntary input and undermine the independence of the sector”.

“The Executive’s Programme for Government has made a commitment to develop strategies for Irish and Ulster Scots.

“It is strange, to say the least, that an attempt should be made to restructure the Irish language sector in Northern Ireland in a policy vacuum, before the Executive’s actual strategy has been developed and agreed,” said Mr McGlone.

“The Irish language voluntary sector in Northern Ireland is very clear that the new funding proposals, if implemented, will have a devastating effect on the small and fragile support infrastructure that has been developed to date,” he said.

“They have pointed out that the proposed new funding model will commercialise the sector, narrowing its range of activities.

“It will stifle innovation, undermine voluntary input and undermine the independence of the sector, thereby severely curtailing its advocacy role.

“When the representatives of the sector attended the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee, they argued that it could lead to a loss of skilled and experienced personnel as well as the wealth of contacts and reputations they have built up over the years.”

The MLA continued: “Foras na Gaeilge acknowledges that its restructuring programme is directly linked to the 20-year strategy for Irish in the Republic.

“But that strategy applies to the south, not to the north. It appears that Northern Ireland is of minimal concern for Foras na Gaeilge’s. This perception is reinforced by the fact that all versions of the new funding model, including the most recent one, have entirely ignored the cross-community priority clearly identified in the Programme for Government.”

Mr McGlone said the proposals also “ignores” the proposed programme for cohesion, sharing and integration, which he says envisages that language strategies will contribute to the Executive’s goal of a shared and better future for all.

“It was disappointing that during the debate in the Assembly the Culture Minister was unable to provide some detail of the correspondence or discussions she may have had with her colleagues and other Ministers on the rest of the island,” added the Mid-Ulster MLA.

“It is a concern that there was no detail provided on equality and risk assessments undertaken by the Department for Culture Arts and Leisure and that the Minister had no information to give of any proposals to make progress on this issue.”

“However, I welcome the Assembly support for our motion and look forward to seeing evidence that the Minister has taken onboard the concerns with the funding proposals that members expressed during the debate.”